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Archive for the ‘SOIL’ Category

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This winter, we wrote about the inaugural outing of the North Coast Design Competition (NCDC), Designing Dredge: Re-Envisioning the Toledo Waterfront, and now the winners have been announced. The entrants were asked to envision a useful waterfront space that combined existing and future outdoor developments with dredged materials, and also to provide the placement and design of a research site for the testing and experimentation of dredge material among other possible uses. Garrett Rock’s winning proposal, Re-Frame Toledo, would use Toledo’s dredge material to create sites for the public while also suggesting a phytoremediation step in the dredging cycle to process the sediment for future land use and better water quality. Sean Burkholder, an assistant professor of landscape and urban design at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the founder of NCDC, said that each of the 21 entries showed a thorough understanding of the subject. Some dealt with the excess sediment associated with dredging by creating riverside parks and recreation; others sought to create new ways of dealing with this material.

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Home page of the Soil Science Society of America’s new blog, Soils Matter, Get the Scoop!

For more than 75 years, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) has informed members and professionals on all matters relating to soil, according to the soils.org website. From bioremediation to environmental quality, SSSA has provided a wide range of services and publications to shape our knowledge on this “living entity,” allowing for the development of better soil-related practices. During a recent website redesign, SSSA saw the opportunity to share this wealth of information with nonprofessionals with Soils Matter, Get the Scoop!—an “all things soil” blog.

Soils Matter covers everything from science-based topics such as how plastic affects the microbes in soil to agricultural practices such as how soil influences the flavor of wine. Each post begins with a question, asked by a follower or curious visitor. The answers are clear and detailed, aimed at the intelligent consumer and non-soil specialist. What’s more, each blog post is authored by an established soil professional and expert on the topic. “We have a handful of SSSA members who are willing to work with us on the answers,” says Susan V. Fisk, director of public and science communications for SSSA. “All the people who do the answers are actual soil scientists.”

Soil is a vital component in landscape architecture, from providing the material to create artificial hills to the planting medium that serves as the fundamental nutrition for our plants. “Soils support buildings and infrastructure,” says Fisk, who has heard many horror stories of poorly engineered retaining walls from landscape architects. “On our end we have the same thing, because people are not using the right soils for their retaining wall, and it might not hold water, or [hold] too much or too little. So it needs to be viewed in a kind of holistic way.” And while many landscape professionals are well versed in the composition and properties of soils, their clients and communities aren’t. Changing  climatic conditions can often mean changing soil conditions as well. And when it comes to designing and managing urban soils,  there’s still a lot of new territory.

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A question on the formation of soils is answered by an SSSA member.

With the growing popularity of community gardens and urban farms, people may find that some urban sites are not completely suitable for the immediate planting of fruits and vegetables. By measuring the amounts of pollutants in the soil, people can better understand which plants are best at filtering specific kinds of pollutants, Fisk says. This in turn helps determine what steps are needed to fully remediate these sites for the enjoyment of future generations.

Soils Matter is a platform where these kinds of specific questions can be answered by soil scientists and professionals. So if you’re wondering if this winter’s extreme cold will have an effect on the growing season or how climate change affects the amount of organic material found in soil, Soils Matter, Get the Scoop! might be a good place to start.

More on Soils Matter, Get the Scoop! and other soil-related topics can be found at http://www.soils.org.

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Courtesy USGS.

Courtesy USGS.

Occasionally something really eye-opening falls into your lap on a quiet afternoon that gets all your circuits humming. That was the case late Wednesday at LAM when the U.S. Geological Survey released an array of soil maps based on data it has been collecting since 2007. Simply put, the maps offer the most complete  profile of the chemical and mineral makeup of U.S. soil ever produced. It is truly significant data, and the maps produced from it should be an important tool for anyone who designs, manages, or, well, just lives on the land.

Location map of the more than 4,800 sites of the sample. Courtesy USGS.

Location map of the more than 4,800 sites of the sample. Courtesy USGS.

The USGS describes these maps and what they measure as follows:

Geochemical and Mineralogical Maps for Soils in the Conterminous United States (Open-File Report 2014-1082). The maps provide a visual representation of the national-scale geochemical and mineralogical variation in soils. In 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey initiated a low-density (1 site per 1,600 square kilometers, 4,857 total sites) survey of soils of the conterminous United States. Three samples were collected at each site from the surface down to approximately 1 meter. In total, more than 14,400 soil samples were analyzed for 45 elements and 9,575 samples were analyzed for major minerals. The maps released today were created using data sets from the survey.

The data sets, which were released in October 2013 by the USGS, provide a baseline for the abundance and spatial distribution of chemical elements and minerals against which future changes may be recognized and quantified.

The maps speak for themselves, and as you pore over the report you’ll want to dig into the data right away. But (nearly) every big data set has a person behind it, and the USGS also published a nice piece on its blog that talks about the process of collecting the data from the 4,800+ sites and some of the people who did that work. Kevin Bamber, then an undergraduate at the University of Missouri, worked on the sampling and picked up a little local knowledge along the way. “A guy in Louisiana said we could dig on his property because it was a full moon and that anytime you dig a hole when there’s a full moon, you always have more than enough dirt to fill the hole. We really picked the right day.”

Courtesy USGS.

Courtesy USGS.

All images from Smith, D. B., Cannon, W. F., Woodruff, L. G., Solano, Federico, and Ellefsen, K. J., 2014, Geochemical and mineralogical maps for soils of the conterminous United States: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014–1082, 386 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20141082. Courtesy the USGS.

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Courtesy the North Coast Design Competition.

Courtesy the North Coast Design Competition.

Sean Burkholder has been thinking about the industrial landscapes of the Great Lakes for more than 10 years. He is currently an assistant professor of landscape and urban design at SUNY/University of Buffalo, and his teaching and research include topics that are salient to the region, including the reuse of urban infrastructure, urban vacancy, and the management of dredge materials. Next month, Burkholder will be launching the North Coast Design Competition with project sites along the riverfront in Toledo, Ohio. We talked with Burkholder about the region’s particular character, how the competition will harness local expertise, and why Toledo needs a dredge research site.

Tell us a little about the industrial landscape of the Great Lakes. What makes it different from other working ports, and how does that inform the competition’s program?
The interesting thing about the Great Lakes is that it’s a tremendous resource of fresh water. It’s 200,000 square miles of a drainage basin, and though that’s not big compared to the Mississippi River basin, it’s still 30 million people right on fresh water. With that access to fresh water comes the fresh water ecologies and habitat that are tied to it, so it’s a completely different system than on the coasts.

The Great Lakes was the industrial core of the country. Material made it to the Great Lakes and was then shipped out through the canals or the Saint Lawrence seaway. With changing populations, migration, suburbanization, and de-urbanization, the region has suffered in the postindustrial period. So, it’s a region that’s trying to reinvent itself in a lot of ways. I’ve worked in a lot of the cities around the Great Lakes region, and that work has primarily dealt with vacancy and postindustrial urban sites.

The competition is designed to look topically at issues that are in some ways endemic to the entire basin. The idea is to look at the issues at a graspable scale so that a designer can work on a problem with special contextual conditions in a specific place, but also allow for wide-ranging application.

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BY JAMES R. URBAN, FASLA

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From the January issue of LAM:

Most projects don’t have a soil scientist as a consultant, which leaves landscape architects to make important field decisions during construction. We need to specify soil moisture as part of the process of installing and compacting soils, and managing soil moisture is a critical part of plant establishment afterward. Working with wet soils can damage the performance of those soils, and allowing root balls to dry out can create tree stress problems that may affect tree growth far beyond the guarantee period.

Soil, grading, and planting specifications often require that soils not be delivered, worked, or graded when wet, muddy, or dry. Some specifications include references to soil moisture, using terms such as optimum soil moisture, field capacity, wilt point, or saturated. What do these terms mean? And how can landscape architects in the field, with no time to send samples to a lab, determine how moist the soil is?

Landscape architects need to understand soil moisture terms so they can make their specifications accurate and defensible.

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Edison Park Site Proposal: A raised circulation system embraces a contained dredge production facility. Images courtesy of Matthew D. Moffitt.

Edison Park Site Proposal: A raised circulation system embraces a contained dredge production facility. Images courtesy of Matthew D. Moffitt.

The Penn State undergraduate Matthew Moffitt won the 2013 ASLA Student Award of Excellence in General Design by showing that not all dredge is created equal. Moffitt’s project, Dredge City: Sediment Catalysis, uses dredged material from the Maumee River, a tributary of Lake Erie, to restore a brownfield site, reestablish migratory bird stopovers, and connect urban and ecological systems, all in the context of an elegantly detailed park. By processing the material dredged from a shipping channel on the Maumee, Moffitt looked at Toledo, Ohio, the most heavily dredged port in the Great Lakes, and asked how one of the lake’s greatest polluters—the Maumee dumps a considerable amount of phosphorous into Lake Erie, causing algae blooms among other problems—can become a source of lifeblood for the city. We talked with Moffitt, who now works at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, about how he conceived the project and how dredge is becoming a hot research topic.

How did you become interested in dredging as a source of remediation?
The project originally began as a studio project during my senior year at Penn State. The studio origins were in Toledo, Ohio, so that’s how it all began. My professor, Sean Burkholder, is very knowledgeable about dredge and is often working in the greater Ohio region. There are several postindustrial sites in Toledo along the Maumee River, and the river feeds into the Western Basin of Lake Erie. We were given one of several sites along the river, and the site I chose was Edison Park. The challenges of the site included [combined sewer] outfall, dumping postindustrial material, and adjacency to one of the newer bridges and the downtown skyline.

His studio prompt was very inspiring, and from there I started making the connections between dredged material and the sediment itself, and from there it blossomed. The general goal for the studio was to use dredge or sediment from the shipping channel for a park design. The assignment was pretty broad, so we had a lot of room to use our imaginations.

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Maybe you’ve noticed things have been a bit more lively here at the  Landscape Architecture Magazine blog of late, and you’d be right. In addition to cranking up our posting to twice a week (!), we’ve been thinking a bit about what we might do to expand our audience and create more of a community of landscape-minded readers.  There are many changes afoot that will be rolled out in 2014, but we’d like your help with some low-hanging fruit, namely our blog roll.

Yes, the blog roll is a venerated tradition in the webs, but often it just becomes a mutual linkfest that highlights the same five well-known news aggregators over and over. We’d like to do something more substantial, and we’d like your help, friendly reader.

Our current blog roll (over on the right—->>) is pretty good, but some of our favorites aren’t posting so much anymore and our sense is that there are a lot more landscape-oriented blogs out there than there were a year ago when we first made the list. That’s where we’d like your help.

So tell us your favorite landscape blogs in the comments below.  We’re interested in original content, rather than aggregators, and we’re curious about anything that shapes landscape, from agriculture to climate to infrastructure to policy to design theory to design tech.  

Here are some we’ve been reading lately–

Rust Wire. Always a fave. News and urban grit from the rust belt.

BakkenBlog. North Dakota oil and gas.

Big Picture Agriculture. Perspectives on ag policy, food, science.

The Prairie Ecologist. Notes on prairie ecology, restoration, and management.

Small Streets Blog. Life at a plausible scale.

Gizmodo. New life under Geoff Manaugh of bldgblog, but you knew that.

Garden Rant. Various garden-related posts with a strong point of view.

99% Invisible. Blog to accompany the excellent design-oriented podcast.

What are you reading and liking? Suggest blogs in the comments or on Twitter @LandArchMag.

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